Yoga and our Relationship with Nature

One of the things that I love about Yoga is that many of its poses have been inspired by observations of nature. A great many asanas are named after animals: cat, cobra, camel, swan, heron, locust, pigeon, fish, crocodile, rabbit, eagle, lion, crow…to name a few! These poses seek to emulate the strength, flexibility and qualities of that particular animal and it is recommended that you try to imagine yourself as that animal whilst performing the pose. It’s fun and it does help in connecting more deeply to each pose. It also strikes me that there is something vaguely shamanic about it too, in the sense that by encouraging you to physically emulate the animal, you touch upon an inner expression of its nature, and in doing so, seek to express this quality yourself in some way. Done sensitively and consciously, I think this can help to build empathy between the animal and self, much in the way that many modern pagans strive to do in their own spiritual practice with regards to animal totems and guides.

Currently, two of my most favourite poses are named after the same animal: the dog. Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, to give it its Sanskrit name, and Upward Facing Dog, Urdhva Mukha Savnasana, are both poses that I am deeply drawn to at the moment. As their names suggest, Up Dog is a back bend, whilst Down Dog takes the body in the opposite direction by inverting the head. I don’t see that many crocodiles, lions or cobras on the Isle of Wight but I see plenty of dogs and the deep joy of these poses, is that you can witness the animal doing it in its own perfect way by just popping out and engaging in a little dog watching. Dogs do these two wonderful stretches pretty much without thinking; it always makes me smile to see them doing it with such apparent ease when I consider the time it has taken me to build the strength and flexibility to perform them myself.

I wonder if my love of wolves goes a little way in me being so attracted to these poses. The American Yogi Marlon Braccia calls the slightly extended Upward Facing Dog – where the head is bent right back – ‘Howling Dog’! It’s hard not to feel a little bit Wolf-like when you are doing it!

Nature informs other poses too: the Mountain, the Tree and the Lotus…Many assume that Eastern Philosophies, with their focus on the ultimate transcendence of the physical, might be antithetical to modern pagan understanding, and yet I have found with Yoga that my relationship with the material world – through the intimacy it encourages with my own body – has deepened. I find it fascinating that a proposed route through to ultimate transcendence –which is what the practice of Yoga is intended to be – can actually also be a route though to discovering Divine Immanence – God/dess at the centre of the natural world and our own bodies and beings.

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Upward Facing Dog - Yoga Journal

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Downward Facing Dog - Yoga Journal

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